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In a recent controlled laboratory experiment, a freshly baked baby was gently dropped on a Casiotone keyboard and sound issuing from the baby’s random plonks analyzed. The resulting sequence was found to be indistinguishable from the Indian National Anthem. True story.
For a nation that prides itself on an ancient and sophisticated music tradition, it is perplexing that India wears for its musical coat of arms this rag of doo-doo sewn by Rabindranath Tagore. You can’t say this aloud in India without sending 1.2 billion knickers into an indignant paroxysm. For Rabby, together with Mohandas and Jawaharlal, is considered part of the Holy Trinity. But the truth of the matter – and which is by now known the world over – is that the Indian National Anthem tune is an utter lemon.
I am here not concerned about the politics of the national anthem – whether Jana Gana Mana should be replaced by Vande Mataram. (Yes, if you ask me.) My remarks pertain to its musical content – rather, the absence of it. It requires no special insight or training in music to see Jana Gana Mana for the debacle that it is. Can anyone locate within this piece a single tonal flourish that expresses any traditional values of Indian music? Even a mild instance of meend, say, or a hint of swara nuance?
I recall the trauma of my young days, forced to stand to attention to this unworthy, uninspiring, and above all, unmusical rubbish. Pakistan has a tuneful national anthem. (And they deserved to beat India in the recent Cricket World Cup solely on this account – that and the fact that their players looked like real athletes.) As does Sri Lanka. Even the tiny Kingdom of Tonga can claim a more evocative anthem.
I last spoke to Ramashreya Jha “Ramrang” on Dec 28, 2008, when I called him from California. He was on his hospital bed in Kolkota, bracing for cardiac surgery scheduled a few hours later. He did not come out of it alive, and passed away on the morning of Jan 1, 2009, India time. Fittingly, our final conversation was mostly about music.
I got to know Ramrang in the last 12 years of his life and we quickly forged an intensely close bond. It was from him that I learnt the true meaning of raga, its structure, its aesthetic, and its place in musical experience (raganubhava).
So many memories flood the mind and by and by I may post some of these recollections. Ramrang‘s first-ever airplane ride was in 1999 when I invited him to Goa. I remember well how his face lit up as he stepped off the plane, and his animated account of what it felt like, told in his musical Bihari speech.
Attached below are video excerpts of Ramrang‘s recital given at Kala Academy in Panjim (Goa) on Aug 4, 2007. Harmonium support is provided by Sudhakar Karandikar and on the tabla is Tulsidas Navelkar.
Note: The videographer hired for the event inadvertently drove his audio into saturation rendering the sound quite unbearable. (I ran it through a low pass filter but it didn’t help.) Fortunately, I had a separate audio channel going and so the entire recital (audio-only) has been properly archived.
The video cuts are archived on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/parrikar
For a better audio experience of these excerpts, go here.